Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Holidays? Czech!

In a last minute thought, we booked a frenzied weekend to Prague. Fly out Saturday morning and fly back Sunday night. This crazy plan was inspired by the famous Prague Christmas markets - outdoor tents set up all over the quaint city selling crafts, mulled wine and hot fresh made goodies galore!

We spent Saturday strolling the markets and seeing the sights in Old Town. The streets are all cobble stones and the sidewalks are all mosaic marble with a different pattern for each street. The buildings are fascinatingly old, gothic styles, all beautifully preserved and the streets wind around the base of these beauties making for great walks.

Saturday night we hit the oldest beer hall in Prague, U Fleku. Sitting at long tables, in crowded smokey rooms (yes, they still smoke indoors in Prague - seems like everywhere else doesn't anymore!), squeezed amongst strangers with a two-man-band playing the tuba and accordion. A guy walks around with a massive tray of beer steins filled with their homemade brew, just passing them out and putting a little tick on your ticket for each one he gives you. It was quite an atmosphere! And we topped it off having traditional Czech dinner there - beef with bread dumplings and pork and potato dumplings and some sauerkraut.

On Sunday morning, we went to the Prague castle - the biggest castle in Europe. After a stately tour, we headed back to town to cap off our shopping at the markets and to relax for the remainder of the day.

Our dinner before heading off to the airport was entirely market food - ham sliced right off a pig roasting over a fire, a fried massive piece of dough brushed in garlic butter with cheese and ketchup, churros con chocolate (yes, wrong country, we know) and dough cooked over a fire around a metal rolling pin then rolled in sugar and crushed almonds and walnuts. (We had a big sausage with ketchup, mustard and a slice of rye bread on Saturday!)

Finally I wanted to mention the tree in the background of the photo. It was real and the star of the markets. The pictures don't do it justice.

Happy Holidays!

Prague Photos

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blue Lagoon Television Debut

Our final day in Iceland was a trip to the Blue Lagoon. What is the Blue Lagoon you ask? It is a geothermal spa rich in minerals in a lava formed pool that has natural revitalizing qualities. Basically its an excuse to kick back, relax and enjoy a hot bath Iceland style.

Being a spa, we decide to go all out and each have a massage. You should know this wasn't any ordinary massage. We laid on a floating mat in the lagoon then were covered by a hot blanket soaked in the hot water for the massage. You'd think it would be freezing but it was nice and toasty. We'd recommend it to future travelers as a great end of a trip! And to make it even easier its on the way to the airport...

On arrival we could see the Today Show setting up for another live broadcast except this time the broadcast was in an hour or so. After making a few calls home to tell people to tune in we covered our faces in the blue lagoon mud and were right behind Al Roker during the broadcast. Unfortunately we weren't interviewed but we did make it on TV. I've been searching for a video online but I can't find one.

Now back to the lagoon. There are certain parts of the water that are almost scolding hot. Basically the water is pumped in from the nearby geothermal power plant straight from the Earth's core after its cooled down a bit. This makes for just the right temperature to soak in. The water is about 100F and the air temperature is about 32F. Needless to say there is a huge shock when you get out of the pool and run to your robe. Its so cold it actually stings and SHOCK might be a better description. At first you don't think much about it then your body wakes up and realizes...

Its actually quite amusing soaking in the pool watching others run around in shock as they get in and out of the pool trying to find their robes. I'm sure we gave the same enjoyment to others because its cold!

We couldn't have asked for a better way to end the trip in Iceland.

Blue Lagoon Photos

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Glacier Journey to the Top of the World

Oddly enough our hotel rented cars and with a open day and spur of the moment decision we took them up on the offer. After only 5 minutes, one small form to fill out we were driving out of the city to try and get a closer look at one of Iceland's glaciers. Renting a car doesn't get much easier than that.

We set our sites on the south coast and headed down the ring road, route 1. One good thing about Iceland is that almost everything of interest is off route 1 so its not hard to find what you are looking for, that is once you go in the right direction out of Reykjavik...

With so little day light this time of the year we were going to be cutting it close to make it to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier before dusk. It was a few hundred kilometers and there were other sites to see along the way.

Once you get outside of Reykjavik, the country side of Iceland really opens up. It is very easy to see how vast and sparsely populated it is. Miles would disappear with out seeing much of anything but natural country side. For lunch we didn't have much time to waste nor had any clue if we would find a better option so we stopped at one of the only easy places to grab some food, I bet you can guess - yep, KFC. For all of our traveling we just can't get away from good ol' Kentucky.

After a few small rustic villages we came across a waterfall. Not on the scale of Gullfoss but much more traditional waterfall. A big noisy falls set in a little cove shielded by its misty spray turning into a quiet peaceful stream just right for a fresh drink of crisp cold water.

For a while it was just Steph and I at the falls and it seemed like there was nobody else around for miles. We took some fun photos and walked up through the mist to get close to the falls. As we were leaving another car pulled up. They too were heading to the Glacier so we decide to caravan with them since they had a 4x4 and we weren't sure what the road to the Glacier would be like.

The road up the mountain seemed to wind forever, gradually getting more and more difficult for our small little car. I was a bit nervous but we were following our new friends so we pressed on. Finally we reached the top and it couldn't have come too soon as it quickly turned very icy. The glacier was still some ways off but there was a lodge type building that appeared to be a base camp for the snowmobile and off road jeep tours of the glacier. But there it was, glowing white from the reflected sunlight. Neato.

When we got out of the car we were hit by the huge gusts of COLD wind. It was a brisk reminder of exactly where we were but hey what can you expect being on top of the world!

A couple of side notes to pass along. The fresh air was such a treat. I'm not sure it gets much more natural than that anywhere. Also we accidentally lost our camera lens cloth getting out of the car. Thanks to a big gust of windy our little blue lens cloth is blowing around somewhere on top of the mountain...

At this point the sun was fading fast and not wanting to risk getting stuck on top of the mountain we headed back down. We drove a little ways where the snow started to clear and stopped for more pictures. This is where we had the best views of the trip. We could see for miles. The glacier in the background looking down to the coast. We set up the tripod, secured it a bit better this time to avoid the camera blowing off the mountain. Here's a good shot of us.

Back at sea level we pressed on further around the ring road which turned out to be a good decision because we found ourselves in this small village on the coast called, Vik at dusk. For some reason I had an urge to get down to the water front so we took a small little gravel road leading down to the water where we found a black sand beach. This was totally unexpected. However it was a little different than the last black sand beach in Hawaii. For starters we had the entire beach to ourselves. However this wasn't a place to layout and catch some sun but it was a great few minutes enjoying sights and sounds of the birds nesting on the steep cliffs behind us and the waves crashing down. Off in the distance were some incredible sea stacks Steph nicknamed the trolls.

I won't go into to much detail here but the Icelandic people have superstition about trolls. For instance when they build a new road they have a committee that has to explore the proposed route to make sure they will not be destroying any troll's homes. If they disturb the trolls bad things will happen.

By this time the sun had set and it was time to head back to Reykjavik. It was only 5 o'clock but what adventurous a day!

Here is a good map of Iceland that shows our route, from 1 to 8 on the map.

Glacier Journey Photos

Tomorrow is our TV debut, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Abroad Part Deux

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Our second Thanksgiving away from home makes us more thankful than ever. Family and Friends, our opportunity to be here, our health, our readers, our cats, and that the election is over...among other things...

So, what are you thankful for? Drop us a comment no matter how big or small...let us all know what you are thankful for on this good Thanksgiving day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Golden Circle

Geysers, hot springs, mountains, lava fields, glaciers, water falls, a continental rift valley, the first parliament and a hearty Icelandic lamb and vegetable soup. What more can one ask for in a days work..err travel?

This is the Golden Circle. A natural, fresh and rugged part of Iceland not far from Reykjavik that makes for a great day trip.

Up early, as became the trend in Iceland, we headed off in the snow towards the Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thing-vel-ear) where the first Parliament was founded back in the 900s. It is also the home to the Mid Atlantic Ridge or what tectonically speaking separates North America and Europe. Iceland is the only place where you can see this on land and where you can actually walk through the rift. In most of our daily lives we have no clue that tectonic plates are real and continually moving but in Iceland, a world far from normal, it's normal. Walking through the rift was hard to comprehend but I have one question. If the rift is where the plates have separated, what am I walking on IN the rift?

Next we moved on to Gullfoss. What a name. It sounds so dangerous. Gullfoss is an impressive waterfall generated by the massive amounts of run off water from the nearby glacier that stair steps down into a massive valley then makes a huge left turn. We hiked up to the falls to get a better view point where you could really see how rugged and mean waterfall is, just like the name implies.

We can thank a young woman for Gullfoss being what it is today. The story goes that back when Iceland was making huge investments into hydro power the government had ear marked the valley that contained the falls for a dam and power plant. The young woman threatened to throw herself off the falls if it was not spared. Luckily it was spared and turned into a national park. On a side note, the wikipedia article disagrees with this story but we heard it from multiple Icelandic guides. Who knows...

A short hike from the falls was our scheduled lunch stop and on our way we had our first encounter on this trip with the Today show. They were setting up for a live broadcast from Gullfoss. We will see them again in a few days at the Blue Lagoon.

For lunch we helped ourselves to a hearty Icelandic lamb and vegetable soup. Cambell's Chunky soup can't compete. What a treat on a chilly snowy day. Homemade, hearty and GOOOOD!

The final notable stop was to visit the grandfather of all geysers, Geysir. The English word geyser is derived from Geysir in Iceland. Today Geysir is only rarely active after things such as earth quakes but his cousin Strokkur only a few feet away erupts every few minutes.

Interesting factoid, every week something like 7 tourists get burned by reaching out and trying to touch the water erupting from the geyser. It sounds stupid but its hard to resist even after knowing better. You just have a natural instinct to get as close as you can then touch the water. Even expecting the eruptions to happen every few minutes they are always so unexpected bringing a happy grin to your face. I was able to get a few good action shots of the exploding out of the ground. Such raw energy, I like it!

Golden Circle Photos

Tomorrow we go on a glacier hunt...

Hunt for the Northern Lights

Winter (roughly October through February) is supposed to be the best time to find the Northern Lights. I can't tell you easily what exactly they are (see Auroa in wikipedia) but I can say I was a skeptic. All those fascinating pictures of green cloud-looking streaks filling the sky...I was sure someone had worked their magic in photoshop. So I was anxious to be proven wrong.

We set out from Reykjavik on a large bus, filled to the brim with people. Apparently, the tour had been canceled for the past 5 nights. As our guide from Cape Cod, of all places, will tell you, the conditions have to be right to find them and there are no guarantees in the Northern lights business. First, it has to be a clear night, no clouds and preferably not a full moon. Then the atmospheric ring of particles need to be circulating in the area. To find this out you need to check your local northern light forecast much like a weather forecast. And finally you need to be away from light pollution, which in Iceland isn't a problem due to all the vast wilderness. So, we set out on a near cloudless sky, a full moon and a low forecast given for the lights.

On the way we were able to see Yoko Ono's Peace Tower dedication to John Lennon. Here's our photo.

We went to a large national park where it was truly pitch black except for the glowing moonlight reflecting off the snow. We stood there for ages all staring in to the sky waiting for something to appear. It was B-I-T-T-E-R-L-Y cold. Josh and I had to take turns going back on the bus to warm up. While we were waiting we did see a meteor fall - it was like a white firework falling from the sky - quite cool! I saw a second one while I was talking to happened behind him.

Then in the distance, low on the horizon, we started to see a faint green glow...and then the glow got a little more vibrant. It was the Northern Lights! We did manage a couple pictures but they aren't very good. The glow only stayed around for a few minutes and we were doing 30 second exposures, hence very few pictures. But, we did see them - I was proven wrong - there is truly something that goes across the sky like green clouds that look like they are straight from a modern sci-fi movie.

Now a bit more on the lights. Apparently, you can only really see them from around 9pm to about midnight. At this point we had waited and waited and it was after midnight. The clouds moved in and we started to head back to town.

However on the ride back the tour guide pulled the bus over on the side of a rural highway saying he saw them. Sure enough, way above us, straight up in the sky we saw vast light green haze. They were quite faint but you could see the extent of them streaking across the whole sky. They were there-and-gone quickly again, but we could get an idea how neat they could be.

All in all, it was a slightly disappointing evening. The tour guide called the night a 1.5 out of 10 as far as viewings go. Not good at all, but hey, we were lucky enough to see them. The northern light tours were canceled for the following two nights during our stay so I feel rather fortunate that at the tour even operated that one evening while we were there and that we did get a glimpse of the mysterious northern lights!

On a side note, the next morning my cheeks had a slight purple hue and were radiating heat - I had wind burn! Yikes. But I DID see the Northern Lights!

Welcome to Iceland!

And what a welcome it was! We jumped off the plane and followed the masses in to the duty free store. Things are so expensive (yes, still, even after their currency has taken a dive) that everyone fills their bags with food, drinks and other goodies from the duty free in the airport to avoid the almost 23% tax rate. Loaded down with luggage and duty free, we caught the 45 minute bus to Reykjavik. We arrived at our hotel around 2:00am and promptly went to bed so we could catch some z's before our 8:30am tour began.

The Reykjavik city tour was nice, nothing terribly exciting, but out tour guide's commentary was worth it. He pointed out all the huge new apartment buildings being built and noted he had no idea when they would now be finished given their economic woes. We drove through the financial district seeing all the banks that have been making the headlines. You can tell the Icelandic people are hard-working and live a high standard of living, but their commentary on the current times is rather pessimistic and uncertain. Josh and I decided that if they can't recover their financial services status, at least they have a goldmine in tourism - Iceland is a stunning, rugged and fresh country, well worth a visit.

Tourism also brought about a disagreement between Josh and myself. I was loving the icy harsh conditions and Josh was saying he would prefer to be there in the summer. I do agree summer would be fantastic and would allow for some superb camping opportunities and the midnight sun, but winter gives you the rare chance to catch the Northern Lights which I think is the ultimate winning factor for me. Josh kept arguing that you could see Northern Lights in several places in the world and it wasn't worth the trade off for the short winter days, it was barely 6 hours in November, Hmm. We never settled this disagreement, so we will let you all decide. (You might want to read ALL the Iceland posts before you decide).

Additionally on tourism and their economy - there is no tipping. Strange but true - and probably the first place we have ever been where the waiters have no expectation of tips. Admittedly, we did leave a couple tips here and there as it felt strange to just walk away. We heard the service is included in prices...but still...

After our city tour, we toured the rest of Reykjavik on foot - its a small town so this should have been easily accomplished although the freezing, windy weather made it a bit challenging. The picture you see above took considerable effort in trying to set up the tripod with near-numb fingers and it almost cost us our camera. While we were smiling for one of the pictures a gust of wind grabbed the camera and tripod and it fell straight over to the ground. Our faces must of been of pure horror as it happened (no, the camera didn't capture those looks, it should be smarter than that) but fortunately, no harm was done - just a couple small scratches on the corner of the camera body. After that, we headed back to the hotel. The cold wind was so strong that it was going right through our wool coats. We decided we'd seen enough and gotten numb enough so we'd just wait out the rest of the day in the hotel until our Northern Lights tour that evening.

Reykjavik Photos

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Today Show

Just a quick up date from Iceland. We did see the northern lights but the clouds ruined the evening.

Everybody keep an eye on the NBC Today show, possibly tomorrow (Monday morning). We have a feeling there is going to be a live broadcast from the Gulfoss falls in Iceland... Which is where we were today and was FANTASTIC! Yet again the today show is following in our footsteps, remember our zorbing adventure...

More to come...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


It. Is. Cold.

The wind is blowing and it is chill-lee. We were just down by the harbor trying to take pictures but gave up after our camera was blown over on the tripod and our fingers and faces were going numb. Gees!

Its November in Iceland and the days are short. Sunrise around 10am and sun set before 5pm.

Tonight we are off to try and catch the Northern lights. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fireworks and a new President

So the fire works aren't for the new president but instead part of a celebration around a failed attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605 known as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire night. To make a long story short Guy Fawkes was caught guarding quite a few barrels of gun powder in the tunnels under Parliament in a failed attempt to overthrow the king. As the saying goes, "Remember Remember the 5th of November".

Basically everyone around the UK celebrates by shooting off fireworks and outside the city lights, they celebrate with big bonfires. Why the celebration? Here is a quick read why but its not as you'd think from the setup. They didn't burn Guy Fawkes as you might of suspected although he was hanged, drawn and quartered which might, in fact, be worse. In any event it makes for a good excuse to light some fireworks and get outside on a chilly November evening. The photo was taken at Clapham Common and I uploaded a few more here.

Now a few things before I go.

All of our recent visitors are back state side but we are back at it next weekend. This time in rugged Iceland. Keep your fingers crossed we can catch the northern lights.

Last but not least. Here's to all who voted. Whether you are an Obama fan or not, I can tell you that there is a lot of enthusiasm from here and other countries around the world for the future of the US. Hopefully this can help us turn the corner and get a handle on the current issues we are facing. As one paper put it, "the America we love is back". So as of Tuesday its a bit easier to be an American abroad than it was on Monday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ash & Ali - in for a whirlwind week

Ashley and Ali arrived last Sunday and stayed with us for a week. It was a whirlwind week because they arrived then went to Dublin for an overnight on Tuesday then left on Saturday - it went too fast and I'm sure they'll agree. Although we did have time to chase the pigeons in Covent Garden as you can see in the photo.

However, that does not mean that they weren't able to do it all in that week! Sunday we spent the day walking them ALL around London touching on nearly all of the major sites and locations. It's purpose was to keep them awake to kill the jet lag and also to familiarize them with the area so they could manage easily on their own the next day while we returned to work. I'd say it was effective because we gave Ali a blister and they both slept in the next day!

On Monday they had a good day touring and we met them for dinner at Ping Pong - a hip dim sum restaurant right on the Southbank. The food was great as was the experience!

Tuesday morning they headed off to Dublin on their $20 return flight! Yes, they scored an awesome fare hence the quick overnighter to Dublin. After some delays at Gatwick they finally made it to Dublin. Although they lost time during the day, they made up for it that night! They went to a musical pub crawl and met many great people with which they partied to the wee hours.

After recovering from Dublin, they returned to London and then went to Hever Castle on Thursday. I was meant to go with them but woke up sick so I gave Ashley all the info she needed to ensure they took the right trains south to the Castle. It was a worthwhile adventure for them as they had a blast! Ali said she hadn't laughed that hard in a while...all due to water obstacles in the water maze (think hedge maze but instead paving stones over water while water is surprisingly sprayed on you to make it more a challenge)!

After their Castle adventure, we took them to Banana Leaf - our favorite place - and the place we take all our visitors! Its a fabulous Asian-fusion place that makes a mean chili pork (or chicken bakar jawa - pick your poison).

Friday we had a girly day (Josh was at work, I was off work with them) heading to the Portobello Road Market and Notting Hill. After spending some money on some great little things for ourselves, we made our way home to have a calm evening before their Saturday morning flight.

All in all, I think they had a great time - I know we were glad to have them!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Traveler Update

I just want to give everybody back home a quick update on the travelers in Europe.

We had a busy, fun filled few days seeing the sights in London. Steph and I did our best to show them some of our favorite places. The weather wasn't good, it rained for the four days, but it was great having family around!

Since they caught the train to Paris I've spoken to them a few times and they want to let everyone know they are doing fine. Yesterday they rented a car so for the next few days they are driving around the south of France. They have a SAT NAV so don't worry...

If I hear anything else I will post another update.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Madrid - still trying to recover

On arrival in Madrid both of us were still feeling rough so we took it easy trying to get well.

Unfortunately an early night didn't help as we'd hoped but since we were running out of time we had to at least try and see Madrid. We took the free walking tour because in the past these tours have always come through for us and this was no exception. Our guide was from Wisconsin and did a fantastic job showing us the ins and outs of Madrid.

For future travelers we want to recommend these free walking tours. We have taken quite a few now and they always turn out great. Since the guides are usually local university students or travelers who have traveled and stayed they are a great source for local reliable off the beaten path suggestions. Better than the tour books! These are locals living in the city who can tell you where to go, what to see, what and where to eat, what not to do, etc. Before you travel next, check to see if they have a free tour in your destination. Here's the London tours for all our future visitors.

Since we were the walking-wounded there wasn't much more excitement in the last few days of the trip. We struggled on seeing the famous Prado Museum along with the Reina Sofia but that's about it.

However we did enjoy the famous artwork especially the Picasso anti-war piece, Guernica and a few of Dali's works.

So after a bit of Candyland, being covered in wine & tomato, sunning on the beach to some culture in Madrid - we did a lot. However to the churros con chocolate we missed, the Flamenco dancing we wanted to see and the monastery cookies we planned on eating all I can say is blame injuries and illness. Maybe next time!

Finally continuing with our not feeling well spirit we couldn't be bothered to have somebody take a picture of us in the Plaza Mayor but we were able to capture the moment with the photo above. We did get some good photos but that sort of sums up Madrid portion of the trip for us.

All in all Madrid was nice way to spend a couple days and wish we'd felt better to really settle in and enjoy it.

Well, that's all from Spain, hasta mañana!

Spain Photo Collection

Monday, September 1, 2008

Valencia - De-tomatoing

With the past few nights, including Barcelona, our bodies were starting to adjust to the late Spanish lifestyle. Our last night with the tour group was no exception. We started the night (after showers and our nap) at a local restaurant in Old Town Valencia. Here we met up with 2 couples, also in our group, from Ireland. Valencia is famous for Paella so we all tried to order our own Paella. The only problem is house rules wouldn't let us each order our own as its made-to-order so we had to order one huge paella for 6. We settled on the Paella Valencia made with chicken and rabbit. Fantastic! (the other option was the seafood version....squid, octopus, who knows what!)

After a few other stops along the way we found ourselves at the beach some time well into the morning. The night club that the crowd ended up at was a little too much for us. So, we wandered off from the club on to the beach. The silky soft sand and the warm breeze made the perfect setting for light snooze under the stars.

As Steph previously mentioned this is the point in the trip where our late nights and strenuous activities started to catch up with us. On top of Steph's bum foot which has now stayed swollen and very sore I've come down with a sore throat and just feeling sick with a headache and weakness. Eek. Not the way we envisioned spending our last day in Valencia before moving onto Madrid.

Before we left Valencia instead of touring some of this sights we limped to the beach and spent most of the day resting up soaking in the sun. Poor us, I know...

For dinner we weren't up for much so instead of going into the old town where all of the night life was supposed to be we decided to explore the streets around our hotel where we found some incredible tree lined streets filled with local Spaniards enjoying the lovely evening which brings me to one of the things we have enjoyed most about Spain. The evenings! They are so nice with comfortable temperatures, great outdoor spaces to enjoy and plenty of night life to keep you busy.

So back to dinner. We found a great little Spanish restaurant serving tapas with an open table outdoors. The staff spoke very little English and we stumbled through the menu ordering a few tapas dishes we recognized including what I thought was steamed mussels. Turns out I didn't order mussels but snails. So after trying to figure out if we were going to eat the snails one of the staff that could speak some English came over and we were able to tell her we wanted mussels and not snails. It took a few hand motions of trying to cup our hands like little mussel shells but we got the dish switched out. We also had a steak tartar dish which I think has been throwing my stomach for loops since. In any event it all worked out and was a good (Steph's interpretation: interesting) dinner.

The next morning we woke up thinking we felt better so we headed out to tour some of the sites we neglected but to no avail. Carrying our backpacks we didn't last very long and headed to the bus station to catch the bus. Bum-foot-Steph and sick-feeling-Josh aside, Valencia was great and we could see ourselves going there again!

La Tomatina - Anybody for Tomatoes?

The wake up call came bright and early after only 3 hours of sleep but we got up, threw on our grungy clothes and boarded the bus to the small town of Buñol where La Tomatina is held.

First, let me say a little about La Tomatina for those that may not know about it. La Tomatina is really only 1 hour of a week long festival in Buñol, a town of only 10,000 people. For that hour trucks drive down the main street dumping who knows how many hundreds of thousands of kilos of tomatoes for some 40,000 people, mainly tourists, to throw at each other. The fight is only on the main street of town where shop keepers and home owners have to board up windows/doors and tarp up their building and balconies to keep out the tomatoes. The fight does not begin until someone is able to climb a greased pole to reach a ham at the top which usually takes hours. When this is done a big canon is fired signaling the start of La Tomatina and water canons then starting soaking the crowd as the tomatoes are delivered by trucks that drive through the crowd unleashing the all out war!

There are 3 rules. Squash tomatoes before throwing them. Only throw tomatoes. And stop throwing when the canon fires after 1 hour. How much of that was adhered to??

At the arrival meeting our tour guides stressed that this was a "full on event"! Most of us said ah, we can handle it not realizing what we were about to get ourselves into. From experience I can now say they were right. The street got so packed that you could not move. You couldn't leave if you wanted to as there is no where to go so if you don't like tight spaces, then stay away. The street is so narrow, maybe officially a lane and half wide, and there are so many people. One not-so-fun tradition that the organizers of Tomatina warned us about was the t-shirt fight. While waiting on the tomatoes shirts are ripped off by groups of guys then are tied in a knot and heaved into the crowd. I can tell you from experience that when you get hit in the face by a wet and nasty shirt it STINGS! Especially when you can't see it coming or raise your arms to block it.

On the other hand, squashing the tomatoes before throwing them usually held true. The only exception is for a few tiny green tomatoes that are too tough to squash which aren't fun to get hit with either.

Now back to the event. I'm having a hard time finding the words for how many people were packed in the street and how LITTLE room we had to maneuver. At times the crowd would surge and you just had to go with the flow. It would move you to the left, right and even move just the upper half of your body. You could not stop the surge. which was at its worst when the trucks crawled passed to deliver the tomatoes. There was no room before and even less room while they were there. I'm not talking pickup trucks here, I'm talking garbage size trucks with dump beds making their way through an already sardine-packed crowd. I don't know how people didn't get run over. You would sometimes be 10 feet from where you were after the crowd parted to allow the trucks to pass by. You just had to move with the crowd.

Once we got some tomatoes and into the fight it was an absolute riot. It was such a laugh to be covered in tomatoes. Then with a fist full of tomatoes I couldn't help but find a bit of ruthless pleasure having the opportunity to pick some unassuming soul out of the crowd and hurling tomatoes at them when they didn't see it coming. Even though people were doing it to me I still got such a chuckle out of it. One option instead of throwing the tomatoes is to squash the tomatoes on peoples heads. Of course for me this included Steph's and was so fun. Watching the tomatoes juice run down was totally worth it. She of course returned the favor smashing one in my ear which I'm still finding pieces of even back in London.

I do have to say however that it was a seriously long hour. Getting hit by shirts, tomatoes, flip-flops, cups (people throw anything they can get there hands on) does get tiresome not to mention the sheer energy it takes to manage the surge and hold your place in the crowd. When the canon fired again we took a big sigh of relief and started heading off the main street.

Walking down the street we were ankle deep in tomato puree. Splashing and swimming in it was almost more fun than throwing the tomatoes. To have the opportunity to do a two-footed splash down into the deep tomato puree is such a boyish pleasure. You know like splashing in a puddle when you were a little kid, soaking your mom in the super market parking lot and the trouble that followed. (Sorry Mom!). The look on Steph's face the first time I covered her in tomato puree was priceless. She just shook her head as globs of tomato slid slowly down her legs and then followed suit. The entire event was over the top!

Finally we made our way to the bus and stripped off our tomato ruined clothes. By this time the heat of the day was starting to awaken the rotten tomato smell, yuk! Even after changing clothes and leaving them on the side of the road, we still stunk. Tomato fragments were everywhere. Steph's poor hair. Last night soaked with wine, today embedded with tomato. What fun!

We headed back to Valencia where the clean up began. Oh, and a nap too! Steph kindly let me shower first knowing the feat in front of her. After spending 30 minutes on her hair alone (dry combing the big tomato bits out in the sink, then 2 shampoos, then wet combing, then conditioner, then combing, then conditioner again), she was finally able to call herself tomato-free and joined me for some much needed sleep!

Here's all the photos that turned out from our disposable cameras.

Requena - Water and Wine Festival

After a 4 hour bus ride south we arrived in Valencia. It was now time to prepare for our main events of the trip: La Tomatina (the main event) and the Water & Wine Festival (and add-on event that our tour company offered). We arrived in Valencia around 3:30pm and our first event started at 8pm. So after a little last minute shopping it was time to depart by bus for the all night water and wine festival in Requena, just outside of Valencia, to celebrate the town's grape harvest.

This is a local festival that our tour company has sole access to which basically means our group would be the only foreigners at the festival. The locals keep the itinerary fairly hush hush so we did not know exactly what was going to happen. The tour guides said they usually have all of the local bands play while leading everyone through streets of the small town, with trucks providing free red wine all along the route (BYOV - bring your own vessel - aka cup) and some of the locals stay up in their balconies and dump water on the passers-by. To elicit a water dumping or hose down you are supposed to stand under their balcony and chant "agua, agua, agua!" Hence, the reason its called the water and wine festival.

When we arrived we made our way up through the old town of Requena where what appeared to be the town mayor was blessing the wine harvest after a series of fireworks. Then we heard the bands playing some where in the distance. Fortunately, we were hanging our with one of the many tour guides and she said they may be at the bull ring. Bull ring? Yes, the town had its own bull ring - it looks like a mini coliseum.

The four of us (Steph, tour guide girl, an Aussie guy and I) ran up to the entrance to try and get in but noticed everybody had tickets to get in. Since it was so hectic and so many people going in all directions the tickets didn't account for much because we were able to sneak in. Yep, sneak in! Here's how:

Standing there wishing we could get in, our Aussie friend said, "I'm going in". He had found a corner of the yellow dollar-bill-sized tickets on the ground. He got in line, held up the ticket corner and just walked in with the crowd of locals entering (it was quite obvious that only locals had tickets to the event. We thought he only got in because he had dark hair...a tall blond Aussie might have stuck out a bit more! ha!). After the shock factor of him just waltzing in wore off, we decided we had to try and get in as well. The tour guide girl took a piece of paper and tore it in to 3 ticket-sized pieces. We ran to another entrance and while the people taking tickets were distracted tearing tickets of others, we just jumped right thru the barrier. Nice moves, huh?

Since it was really full we had a bit of trouble finding seats but eventually wedged our way in. At this point the crowd was already rocking, singing and dancing to the bands (brass and percussion) who are all wearing different color shirts like teams, spread throughout the ring. They took turns playing different songs as the music blared around the ring and you couldn't help but join in, especially on the O'le...O'le O'le O'le...Ole chants! The atmosphere was amazing as everyone eagerly awaited the featured attractions, the bulls.

Now, before I go to much further let me clarify that we knew in advance this was going to be a "fake bullfight". Or "play bulls" as the tour guide said. No bulls would be injured in this event, but people might and funny enough, they were (I thought it was funny, but Steph did not). Basically they bring a bull out and young men run around the ring baiting the bull who chases them as they then hurdle the side wall to get away. "Play bulls" are small bulls. They looked big to us but the guide insisted they were maybe a third of the size of a full-sized bull fight bull. And mind you, the guys out in the ring are amateurs so small bulls is the only way to go. Here is a short video of one bull running around the ring.

By our count there were around 10 bulls on display, one at a time. There were a few close calls with huge "oohs" and "ahhs" when a guy would narrowly avoid being taken out. It all went fairly smooth with only a couple of guys getting hit by the bulls but quickly jumping up with huge cheers. That is until Bull #8 when this poor guy was a little too daring and got absolutely hammered by the bull. He got hit, flipped, knocked down, and trampled on. OUCH! You could tell he was passed out when the bull was done by the way his limbs just flopped like a doll. Luckily all his fellow dare devils came to his rescue to distract the bull as they drug him out of the ring and over the wall while he was still unconscious.

Don't get too worried. There wasn't any blood and he didn't get gorged but I highly doubt he made it without at least a couple broken bones. Strangely, the crowd watched as he disappeared within the arena walls, then the bands took up playing again and out came the next bull. I guess the crowd really understands that that's the name of the game.

There was also one really good guy who a couple times was able to wait for the bull to charge him, then put his hand on the bulls head as it lowered to buck him and then jumped over the bull - NICE! Too bad I wore flip flops. I could have hurdled a bull!

After 10 exciting bulls, the show was over. Everybody exited onto the streets where the bands were all playing next to a tanker truck full of red wine hosing people down. I'm talking firefighter water hose amounts of wine flooding the crowd. It was quite a site and great way to start the parade! (And what a waste!) Check out this quick video.

What's interesting is that the entire town takes part in this event. The younger generation does the walking and most of the wine drinking while the older generation watches in laughter and dumps water from their balconies after the agua chants. Even old gray-haired ladies had their hoses or buckets out dousing the people below with water. One particular sweet little old lady was out on her balcony looking down at everyone with a "you all are nuts" kind of look, then stepped inside her dark apartment only to emerge with a big bucket of water! I bet she paraded in her glory days! You could tell she was having fun!

Coming up on 1:00am the parade started moving through the streets, music blaring and everybody singing and dancing. To top it all off free red wine was given out through the entire parade route. There would be a big yellow truck with a huge container of wine with people taking cups and filling them up for you.

At one point I ended up getting my shirt ripped into a toga as a couple of locals, whose shirts were also ripped as this is somewhat part of the tradition, looked me up and down motioning to my shirt then they all grabbed hold and ripped it for me.

After parading down many streets amongst multiple water dumps and hoses, it was now 3:30am, time to catch the bus back to Valencia for tomorrow's show, La Tomatina. Back to the hotel by 4:30am and on the bus to La Tomatina by 7:30am. Sleep? Who needs sleep? Steph's only concern was that she was going to stain the hotel pillows with her wine-dampened hair...and when you are about to participate in a huge food fight within mere hours, a shower doesn't get put high on the priority list! :)

Apologies for the poor photos in advance.

Photos of the water and wine festival

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barcelona Part 2 - Gaudi Day

We woke up early to make it to La Segrada Familia (pictured) - a cathedral Gaudi started in 1884. If you are not familiar with Gaudi's style the easiest way to put an image in your head is that his buildings often look like he was living in the 1970's and he was high on something.

His style was modern beyond even today's standards - often colorful and fairy tale like. La Segrada is no exception. It is a monumental church that will eventually hold 13,000 people and is planned for completion around 2026. From a distance it looks like a sand drip castle, but once you get closer you see the immense and surprising detail of amazing sculptures and colorful fruit bunches at the tops of the spires that make it looks almost like Candyland. And the inside is no different - intensely colorful stained glass windows and windows in shapes you have never seen on a building. Columns that defy normality and look like stone trees supporting the vast space.

Just as we were about to label Gaudi a true crazy, we came upon the part of the tour that showed how all of his unique and modern shapes were all derived from nature....tree trunks, honeycomb, leaves...and all the science that goes with it. He conjured up architectural masterpieces from natures' inspiration - and it is all truly magnificent. We vote this one of the most amazing structures we have ever seen in our life and plan to make a trip back in the 2020's to see it in it's completed glory.

After seeing Gaudi's masterpiece we moved on to go see Park Guell (designed by Gaudi) and two of his more popular apartment buildings La Pedrera and Casa Batllo. Park Guell was truly Candyland. It was originally meant to be an exclusive area for upscale homes but that plan never caught on - but Gaudi had already created a magnificent welcoming to the area in the form of two unique houses flanking the metal entrance gates, with dream-like stairs leading to a flat area with a wave shaped bench stretching the whole edge of the platform made from a beautiful mosaic of colorful tile. Only pictures can do it justice.

We took a break at the park and enjoyed a picnic of bread, jamon, cheese and fruit that we picked up from the market that morning.

After taking in Candyland, we moved on to see his famous apartment buildings including the house of bones....the strange thing is that they were built so long ago and they stick out like sore thumbs in the city blocks - but they are unique. Again, only pictures can do them justice. We only admired these buildings from the outside although we hear the insides are just as unique. After a long day of walking, we started heading back towards out hotel.

I mentioned yesterday that we would come back to the city being walkable...well, it is but it's easy to walk too much. Steph's left foot was really starting to hurt - she limped out of bed on Day 2 and by end of Day 2 was limping nearly every step. We are going to call it a muscle strain because by the end of Tomatina (in a couple days, her foot was good and swollen...and this blog was written by Steph flat on her back in bed with her foot propped up!)

Although we had an early bus the next morning to Valencia, we attempted to go out. There is an infamous bar called Kentucky that we went searching for. Unfortunately, we found it with a sign saying they were on holiday til mid September. We tried. On to Valencia......!

I posted a few of our Barcelona photos with more to come when we get back.

Barcelona Part 1

We had a bit of a confusing time figuring out Barcelona. When we scheduled the trip we intentionally took a late Saturday flight after reading about how the Barcelona evening doesn't start until late. Dinner not before 9pm with activities going well into the morning hours.

Our flight arrived at 9:30pm so after getting to the hotel to check in that put us out and about around 11:30pm looking for dinner. We walked and walked but couldn't find anybody eating dinner other than the tourists at the overpriced tapas restaurants. We DID find a whole bunch of restaurants but no one was eating! Now tired, hungry and frustrated, we finally stumbled on a great little Italian place (we're in Spain, we know) which made seriously good brick oven pizza. After having my share of pizzas in Italy I can say it was mighty good.

The next morning we decided to tour around the Gothic area and hit the Picasso museum. Barcelona is a rather large city but if you are only concentrating on pieces of it at a time, it is very walkable...or so we thought (more on that later). The Gothic area was very neat - old buildings, art markets, narrow cobbled streets where we found the museum. It was started during Picasso's lifetime by a good friend who donated his own private collection of Picasso's works; it was further enhanced when the artist himself donated thousands more pieces from his own collection. (Thousands includes many sketches, drawings and unfinished pieces as well). It was fascinating to watch the progression of his work - from very naturalistic to his ultimate cubism. His copy of Velázquez's Las Meninas was intriguing. Taking such a famous, naturalistic painting and turning it in to another fascinating, but completely different version of itself.

The museum had at least a half dozen versions of his "copy" and many of his sketches and practice paintings - you could see the progression of the different elements of the picture come together in what was the "final" picture - the largest one. Although that picture was amazing, we ended up leaving the gift shop with a copy of one of his Los Pichones paintings - pigeons! Yeah, we loathe pigeons - they are dirty, annoying little birds but they are every where we go in Europe so in a way they are a true travel mascot and his paintings made us realize we do have a bit of a soft spot for them.

The rest of the afternoon we ended up strolling the streets of Barcelona eventually winding our way down to the port and beach where we ran across the Barcelona Head in the picture above. Funny enough it was created by American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Finding dinner the second time around was much easier - we realized that although dinner doesn't start til 9:30ish, everyone does eat then and eats quickly - most food was out of site by 11pm. We found a great outdoor modern tapas bar - our food came out and it looked nothing like we thought we ordered (steak for Steph and fish for Josh). Steph's was paper thin slices of a tartar looking steak with a pile of rocket and cheese shavings in the center. Josh's fish came out in a cylinder shaped stack on his plate (not the fillet we were expecting). But the steak was tasty with a great balsamic drizzle and the fish was in the cylinder somewhere intermingled with pastry and a creamy sauce also accompanied by a balsamic drizzle. All that with a lightly chilled local Spanish Rioja - what a meal!

We called it a night after dinner as we were looking forward to an early start the next day to see La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's greatest vision (I say vision as it was, and still is, a long way from being completed...more on that later).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Redbull and Shakespeare

Things have been rockin' here in London this weekend.

Steph kicked things off Friday night at a Kyle Minogue concert at the O2 dome which she said was fun.

Saturday was the last of the Shakespeare summer performances at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park so at the last minute we hopped on the train and rushed over to try and get tickets. Luckily we were able to score two grass bank seats for Romeo and Juliet.

It was a nice evening weather wise and we enjoyed the performance. Sorry but I'm not a performing arts critique so I'm not going to rate the show. Who knew they both died at the end, that's no fun...

Ha ha, just kidding, I did learn a little Shakespeare in high school.

Anyway, we are going to have to explore Regent's Park a bit more because what little we saw made it look like a great space to hang out in.

Finally, to round out the weekend we had passes to the RedBull Air Race in London today. What a show! I don't know how the pilots do what they do, flying that fast, that low to the water with such G force. For those who haven't seen this Air Race here is a quick clip. Sorry for the lame music. Just mute the sound when it starts.

The weather wasn't good but the racing was very good! And to top if off an American pilot won the race, nice one!

Oh, if your curious about the title a popular night out drink is Redbull and Vodka.

I guess its back to work tomorrow...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Finally a little dose of summer

As some of you know I've been moaning about not having much summer weather (hot weather). Well I think summer has finally started, even if its just short lived because the last few days have been fairly warm - in the mid-eighties. This is a heat wave in British terms. They have even been calling it an Indian Summer because its warm and dry. Not sure about that one but hey we'll go with it...

Luckily there was a festival, Sundae on the Common '08, sponsored by Ben & Jerry's (yep the famous one from Vermont) on Clapham Common which is only a few minute walk from the flat. A bit of rock music and all the free ice cream Steph could handle. From Chunky Monkey to Bohemian Raspberry to Cookie Dough we tried our best to sample them all but you can only eat so much ice cream.

We went with our New Zealand friend and his British girlfriend who are moving back to New Zealand in September. We had a great day on the common enjoying the music, soaking up the sun, eating the ice cream and people watching. One of the best parts was only being 10mins from home instead of the usual long commute home after a festival.

In other news its fairly slow from here until we head to Spain at the end of August. Steph better watch out because I see loads of flying tomatoes in our future.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Feedback Needed on Travel Idea

Ok travel buffs. We just found the ultimate travel itinerary. 18 weeks, 13 countries from London to New York by bus (the long way 'round).

Oz Bus - London to New York

Also intriguing is the London to Sydney trip which probably fits us best even though its only a mere 13 weeks.

So now we need some feedback. We think this would be incredible but we want to hear feedback from others.

Is anybody interested besides us?

Our thoughts.

First, 18 weeks on a bus sounds tough. Second, 18 weeks off work, also tough. But that would cover your travel desires for a good few years...and there was mention of camping so apparently we'd not be in the bus all-day-every-day. I guess situations like these define "leaves of absence". (Lots of people in Europe take extended leaves from work to travel, do charity work, or what ever their hearts desire. I think as Americans we get set on the American-dream-track and there's no chance/thought of derailing for most of us. After a monumental, fulfilling and exciting trip like this, some of us might even be ready to settle down.... ;)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cruise Photos

I have uploaded all of the cruise photos.

Cruise Photo Collection

There are quite a few so you may be interested in the Flickr slide show option. Once you choose a set to view you can can hit the slide show link for easy viewing.

We're off to central London for some fish and chips then to do some last day sightseeing.

It's a shame its almost over...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Recovering back in London

We are back in London after our fantastic trip. The flight home was delayed so we got home later than expected but we made it. After the shipped kicked us off bright and early so we spent the whole day in Venice flying out late last night. We did some more sight seeing, shopping and had some good Italian pizza and gelato.

Today we are resting up because it was a such long day yesterday. Garland and I just got back with some Indian take away for a late lunch. He actually had Indian food for lunch and liked it. Crazy I know.

We have a couple more days with Garland and are going to do a bit more exploring in London. If the weather is nice tomorrow we may try to get to Stonehenge.

I'm working on the pictures and should get them posted shortly.

Garland says, "Tell everybody hi for me. Its been so much fun and so so exciting. Tell them I have a lot of stories and photos to show off and I will see everybody soon. oh yeah, Hi Mom and Dad!"


Our last port of call was Split, Croatia. Now, if you are anything like any of us - you probably know very little about Croatia. In talking to a few others it was supposed to be a beautiful country with beaches, mountains, rivers and as always historic towns. Since its fairly new to the tourist scene its still very unspoiled and still very Croatian. After going to a few other historic cities we decided this was the perfect place to get a little outdoor adventure so we scheduled a rafting trip down the Cetina River.

We made our way outside of Split to a quant little town called Omis, where we met up with our rafting guide, Marco. Before we set off we had a quick safety demo and a bit of training on how to paddle as a team. What is bomba you ask? Bomba is a Croatian word; we used as a command in more dangerous rapids. When Marco yelled "Bomba" we had to all get down in the center of the boat putting our paddles on the side of the boat so he could navigate the rapids and interesting situations safely. Bomba! (After a bit of research it appears to mean grenade or bomb so I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right, but you get the idea).

The Cetina (set-ina) river isn't all class 5 or 6 rapids but does have a few bomba rapids. We cruised along the river navigating the rapids, paddling on the calm stretches and stopping occasionally to swim, explore caves and jump off the rocks! Yep, I said jump off the rocks!

About mid way through the trip we tied up on shore where Marco said he had to navigate the next set of rapids without us. We could either take a short walk on the outside of the river or to go through a small cave. Easy right, well if you choose the cave there's no turning back and you must swim through about 10 meters of 5 degree celsius water (40 fahrenheit) and climb up and down numerous rocks and boulders to make your way along the side of the river. Garland wasn't super happy about the near freezing water part but after a little encouragement we said we'd take the cave. It was a GOOD choice.

The entrance to the cave was short climb away and hidden by a ice cold waterfall. We walked through the waterfall and climbed down into the cave where there was a small pool of water. This was the cold swim and there was no turning back. I could tell Garland was nervous and he asked Steph to go first. When she got about half way across she turned and gave us the cue to follow. At this point Garland had nervously climbed up a rock above the water so I went in first. You must know I'm carrying a waterproof jug with our SLR camera and the camcorder so I needed to keep it out of the water as best I could. As I went in Garland and quickly followed. He jumped off the rock straight on my back. As the ice cold water stung my skin he landed on me and dunked me under. Trying to keep the camera jug arm out of the water I was swimming with one arm and a frantic Garland on my back who was doing his best to hang on and stay out of the chilly water. At one point I lost a flip flop and dunked the water proof jug but we made it across all in one piece, albeit cold but adrenaline filled. And we even had dry cameras in the end ;) It was so much fun!

The remainder of the cave exploration was just as exciting keeping the adrenaline going. We climbed from rock to rock, over small gaps and around some crazy ledges all in the very little light. It was a bit scary at times but was an absolute blast.

Exiting the cave we found ourselves at one of the serious rapids that Olympic rafters use to train on. We had an amazing view of Marco as he passed the challenging rapid.

Getting back in the boat we navigated quite a few more rapids until we reached a place called Devil's Pass where we stopped to take a break. This was the deepest part of the river which had a great rock cliff to climb up and jump off. And we did! Too much fun. We have video of Garland and I jumping off. (Steph, having gone cliff jumping in Hawaii was content being the camera woman for this one)

The rafting trip ended with some lazy paddling to the end of the line. We were exhausted! It was time to get back to Split, grab some lunch and find a beach to briefly relax at before boarding the ship for our last night at sea.

I'll get the pictures up as soon as I can...

Friday, July 11, 2008


Ahh - picture perfect Greece - narrow, cobblestone streets just wide enough for walking and the occasional moped shaped by tall white-washed buildings with bright blue shutters and doors - all framed by the majestic turquoise blue Mediterranean ocean. Wow. Enough said.

Well not quite enough - we might as well tell you what we did while on this little piece of paradise. The sites, sounds, and people made for a day to remember in Mykonos. It seemed like every corner we turned there was a friendly face smiling at us or saying hello.

So as you can tell from the picture above Garland and I rented a moped. Steph wanted to do some shopping so we decided it would be fun to get out of the town and cruise the island. What a blast! We speed from one side of the island to the other seeing lots of the beaches and white houses Mykonos is famous for. At one point we ended up at a remote rundown lighthouse on the other side of the island from the cruise ship with what seemed like nobody in sight for miles.

After a few hours on the beach we decided to have a quick and easy gyro for lunch. We ordered two pork and one chicken filled pitas with tomato and seasoned greek yogurt spread all topped with french fries. Yummy. While ordering I was chatting with the lady who was serving us asking about the yogurt and other random questions that I usually have, one being, "how do you stay so skinny working around these amazing gyros"? She said she has a gyro every day but then sticks strictly to salad for dinner. Funny huh. She even gave me the recipe for the yogurt spread. Then, later in the day after our moped ride we were thirsty so we went back to the gryo shop to grab a drink. Well I guess I made a good impression because I ended up leaving her shop with a big bucket full of the yogurt spread. How cool! We brought the bucket to dinner on the ship to share with our table mates then gave the rest to our head waiter.

Here's what Garland had to say about Mykonos.

"Well lord it was hot and we had to take several breaks, but we saw some cool stuff and the people are usually really nice but the people in Mykonos are even more nice. Mykonos has really nice beaches that are warm and the water feels so good. Josh and I swam in the ocean waiting for Steph to finish shopping and we just swam out just sort of treading water and then Steph finally got there. We dried off and got on the boat. I really like Mykonos. Athens had better history but Mykonos was just better overall.

During the trip I met an 11 year old girl who sits at our dinner table from New Jersey and we became friends and started hanging out on the ship together and her mom is really fun as well. We all are having a really good time."

Finally, a bit of mid-cruise analysis from Garland. I'm paraphrasing here...

So far its been a really good experience. I didn't realize there was so much in the world to do and see. Its really cool to meet people from different countries like our table mates and waiters. Adrian, our head waiter, from Romania is so cool. He lets me have two main courses every night for dinner. (Tonight it was 2 sirloin steaks and a dessert). Our other waiter, Jeronimo is from Dominican Republic and is fun.

Up next is Croatia...

Monday, July 7, 2008

It was hot, hot, hot! (in Athens)

"Hot" was the word of the day in Athens - it reached around 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit. We hopped off the boat as soon as it docked and made our way from the port to Athens via the metro. We were already sweating from every pore by the time we got to the train (the cruise ship gave us directions to the train however they failed to mention that it was at least a twenty minute walk. We might have opted for a taxi had we known). Anyway, once in city centre, we came out of the train station and there it was - ancient ruins perched upon a hilltop above us - amazing! We started the tedious climb up the hill, stopping frequently in the shade to guzzle some water and rest. The sweaty climb paid off when we got to enjoy the temple of Athena, the Parthenon and a couple other sites that I'm afraid I'd have to pull out the book to tell you their names. Regardless - the structures are impressive. It is hard to imagine man made those monstrosities over 2000 years ago, some even in BC. Oh, and I got yelled at by an Acropolis staff person. Josh was going to take my pic in front of the Parthenon and I raised both my arms to the sky being excited by the monstrous building behind I did a lady frantically blew a whistle and motioned for me to put my hands down - huh? Fortunately, there were some other tourists right next to us (who took the great photo above) and they said "she is telling you to put your arms down - its considered disrespectful - you're not the first to be whistled at". Well - you learn something new every day...I am going to have to google that to figure out how I was disrespectful of the gods, I assume.

After taking in all the history on the hilltop, we headed down the hill to the Plaka - the shopping area! haha - no, I did not walk away with much - actually only a 1 euro charm of the Greek eye - for good luck! Garland snagged a cool bronze bull. We stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant with water misting fans (purposefully chosen). The food was all great - chicken souvlaka for me, lamb souvlaka for G and chicken and pasta for Josh - all uniquely Greek and tasty! We then made our way through the Plaka towards the Temple of Zues - something Josh was looking forward to. It did not disappoint. Although very few columns remain in comparison to its glory days, the remaining dozen columns are quite impressive.

After admiring the temple of Zeus, we headed swiftly back to the boat boarding at 7:10pm (last call being 7:30pm or the boat leaves you!). All in all, it was a hot, hot, hot day accompanied by some of the oldest and most impressive structures we have ever seen. We decided you could have probably cooked an egg on some of that marble (in case you didn't realize - most, if not all, of the structures are made from solid marble - whoa!). Although lunch was good, the heat curbed our appetites and Garland made up for it at dinner putting down a shrimp cocktail, two (I said two!) main courses of pork loin, finished off my linguine marinara and had two scoops of chocolate ice cream and claimed he still wasn't full.

A bit of tidy up before we go. First of all, internet access isn't what we had hoped. Its tough on the ship and at a port of call its difficult because we are so limited on time. Our apologies but we will do the best we can until we get back to the UK. We are blogging almost every day but can't post it straight away which is why you are getting 3 entries at once. Second, to the Draper family all is still well. We are having a fantastic time and are meeting some fantastic people. As we speak Garland's actually at the arcade with a girl his age that sits at our dinner table from New Jersey. And finally we are at port tomorrow and will have a phone if any urgent has come up or if Kathy wants to quickly check in. We should be ashore between midnight to 1pm EST.

Thats all from here. Off to Mykonos...

Cruising to Greece

The cruise has been a big hit so far. Plenty of food, sun and activities to keep us all entertained as Garland writes below.

"Well our cruise is awesome! It has put put golf and a rock wall which I dominated (of course) lol jk. But it has almost everything you name it. Josh and I have been having so much fun so far. And we have been ordering room service at 1 and 2 in the morning. Tomorrow we make it to a port and hit Greece! And now all I can say at 2:17 in the morning is...look out Greece here comes Garland and the Nolands!"

We climbed the rock wall which was a blast!

Today we are in Athens, Greece. It's supposed to be scorching hot but we are going to brave the heat in the name of Social Studies. Even though Garland doesn't totally agree or may not be totally enthused because we are on vacation, but we are going to give him a bit of "Real Social Studies". The living breathing and inspiring sites and sounds of ancient Greece. I know I'm excited.

Before I go let me give a quick parent disclaimer. The trip is going smooth and we are keeping Garland out of trouble ;). We have loads of photos and video to show you. He's having fun, loving the unlimited ice cream (only after solid meal of course) and totally enjoying meeting so many people from other countries and cultures. Tonight we took in a musical show that was a musical covering movies over the years before a midnight swim. Try not to worry, all is well from Europe.

Andio (goodbye in Greek)...

Starting in Venice, Italy

After arriving in Venice I must say I miss the summer heat. Being in London now for our second summer it just doesn't get and stay warm like it does in KY. It's nice to get a dose of it even if just for a few days. We had a fairly easy trip into the city but had a bit of trouble finding our hotel. Even the second time around all the streets look the same and are just not labeled the same on our maps...gees. We had a mid-night dinner then wondered around St. Marks Square giving Garland his first taste of Gelato. Anybody think he liked it? Walking around the square and around the canals was so peaceful and so Venice. Amazing!

The next morning we toured a bit more of Venice taking Garland to see the Rialto bridge, the markets, and all the shops. One of the big hit's was the fish market and all of the different types of fish.

Here's what Garland wrote about his first of two parts in Venice.

"Well, we started to pack for Venice again and boy we packed more than we realized, which we learned after we got lost after and had to walk for 2 hours. We had a normal flight about two hours and we flew right on the side of Venice and it was amazing...but when we got there it was nice and warm. We took a bus to the outside of Venice and then took a water taxi into the city,which took about 30-45 minutes. Then we started to get lost and boy it sucked. We would think we were going the right way but we would get so far only to have to turn right around. The only reason we got lost was because the narrow streets are either horribly marked or not marked at all. But eventually we got to our hotel. Then we went out to eat and after Steph decided to show me gelato! I loved it! it's better than ice cream. The guy who we got them from gave us a discount so that all 3 of us could get one because he couldn't give change for our big money. We all ate our gelato out in ST. Mark's Square and Steph named the water on in the square pigey water because all of the pigeons there poo and even die in that nasty water lol. Then we all went back to our room and went to sleep. The next morning we all got up and went out to explore some more of Venice it was long but fun. At the end of the day we hopped on another water taxi and then we went down and got on our cruise!"

Bon Voyage!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Garland has landed

We had an exciting day yesterday because Steph's nephew Garland arrived to start his holiday. He had to fly over by himself and with a little help from the Detla staff he didn't have any trouble. It took a few movies, snacks, and naps but he made it through ok.

Once he landed and dropped his luggage, Steph took him to see a bit of central London including the Eye, Big Ben, the London Zoo and the London Aquarium. The photo was taken in Trafalgar Square outside the National Gallery. In just one day away from KY he's already becoming a transportation expert, navigating planes, trains, the tube and the double decker buses. Finally after a big day we decided to take it easy for dinner having pizza just around the corner from our flat here in Clapham.

As any of our previous visitors know, to ease the effects of jet lag we set a goal of staying up until 10pm the day you arrive and it was no different for Garland. He struggled through dinner but after the pizza he went over and beyond staying up until midnight. What a trooper! Although I think he's paying for it this morning as he's a complete zombie ;)

I posted a few of the photos from day 1 and we will continue to post updates throughout his trip so keep an eye out. Today we head to Venice to catch our cruise to Greece and Croatia.

One last note. Garland says to tell everybody he is doing great and having fun so far. To his mum and dad he says, "don't worry, I'm ok".